This Curious Thing You Call Courtesy

The general lack of civility and courtesy in the world was apparent in the huge, surprised toothy grin of the woman that I held the door open for, before my own entry into Starbucks this morning. It got my mind, even in its only moderately caffeinated state, churning with speculation about what the future might hold for a southern gentleman like myself. I imagined a world where once common acts of selflessness, say something as simple as holding a door open, were so foreign to the populace that performing one was a strong first step in some twisted courtship ritual – a world in which my innate gallantry would be more curse than positive character attribute, and would lead to many a misunderstanding and the occasional escape-from-a-shotgun-wedding caper or two. If this morning’s recipient of my amiable nature was already living with one foot heavily planted in this new world, then perhaps her next move would be to follow me from Starbucks – just long enough to get a sense of where I spend my days. Only later would she return, with her father and cultish preacher character in tow, for a public ceremony few of us have yet to witness. That she currently still mostly resides in the world as we know it was evidenced by her decision to remain behind and wait for her own morning Joe. There will be no unintended impromptu unions before the barrel of a 12-gauge this afternoon my friends, at least not in Tribeca.

A View to a Kill

The view from our current apartment is pretty amazing. The Williamsburg Bridge, in all its rigged-to-not-collapse glory, stands triumphantly, perhaps even majestically, over The East River with the buzz of Manhattan illuminating it from behind. This same bridge aids in the J,M,Z lines’ efforts to shuttle me to and from Brooklyn to downtown everyday, as it carries the trains up and over the river, before diving back down into the island’s underbelly. In the evenings, if my wife is home already, I can see into our illuminated unit – the distance between me on that train and the unit itself is probably a good two football fields in length, and in reality you can’t make out much other than the four small hanging lamps over the kitchen counter, but the imagination can fill in the rest. Is Ariele busy cooking dinner? How exciting! Is that her putting the finishing touches on yet another amazing furniture restoration project? Can’t wait to see it! Oh wait, is there someone else in the house with her? Why is he wearing a mask? Is she being attacked right now – and in the most evil of ironies I’ve managed to grab the crawling city sewer that just happens to put me on the part of the bridge that allows me to see it go down at the very time that it does – sans cellphone, and with no way to alert anyone whatsoever? Can I get off the train, and scale down some maintenance staircase in time to prevent this from happening or will pulling the train emergency break ultimately leave me trapped here to watch the entire thing play out through squinted eyes, witness to a painfully real version of the first five minutes of a Law and Order SVU episode? I’ve considered taking the L train, which travels under The East River, further north, and offers no view of our apartment – which would only lessen the chances a bit that I’ll spend a few minutes of my nightly commute crafting that same basic narrative. It would add a considerable amount of time to my journey home though. Hmmm, maybe some mini-blinds are in order.

My Even Stranger Strangers

The world revolves around the paranoid. Being on guard for the worst requires a steadfast commitment to hypothesizing about the intentions of all the characters you encounter throughout the day. The affiliations you don’t see daily can not be completely ignored either, but even as I qualify myself at level 9, I don’t portend to have the capacity to gauge the whereabouts and activities of all the souls walking the earth, hell-bent on destroying me. That said, since I don’t walk with my ears glued to tunes or my eyes and fingers affixed to what Stephen King once referred to as modern day slave bracelets, I have ample time to construct numerous narratives about the people around me.

I loathe gossip – dabble in it, sure, but consider it an enormous waste of energy – and yet, these fictional constructions I make to myself could be categorized as gossip I share with myself. My excuse, also made internally, is that as a writer it is a good exercise to create back stories for strangers, acquaintances, and surface-level friends – and in truth, I have used some of these musings in unpublished and published literature, media, and the like. I wouldn’t say I’m good at reading people, nor a great judge of character, so much as I’d say I’m pretty adept at building fictionalized stories around human beings in mere minutes. I don’t think it’d be untrue to make the claim that the mini-biographies I mentally-pen about folks are probably far more fascinating than the actual lives they live or have led.

Do other people spend any effort against this same practice? Is who I am being painted in the heads of the very people I aim to figure out? I doubt it. Which is both a testament to my knowledge that I am not the center of the universe, and also a clue about my less-than-complimentary opinion of the masses on the whole – too lazy to bother, with brains too saturated with the spoon-fed details of celebrity lives, human beings they’ve most likely never met, and are most likely not standing close enough to take them out on a packed J train crossing the East River.

No Sleep ’til…

Thirty-five hours in a car, driving from Texas to New York, gives any man a lot of time to think. Even armed with my very favorite conversation companion and the book on tape she so smartly purchased for the trip, my mind betrayed me, working overtime behind the wheel, at every rest stop, in the bathrooms of the various fast food joints we allowed ourselves to dine at, and most definitely in the curtained darkness of the two-star hotel bedrooms where we attempted to recharge. The usual themes were along for the ride: serial killers, random abductions, backwoods gas-station rapes, long, long thought given to what/who might be in every windowless van or truck we passed, or more likely passed us on our way, and, of course, the nearly constant thought – I keep it there intentionally – that one of my car’s four tires will soon burst, sending our vehicle into a scientifically proven impossibility of in-the-air three-sixties followed by an immediate crushing by the five or so eighteen-wheelers plowing towards us on their southbound route to deliver kiddie-porn into the eager hands of Arkansas pedophiles. I never stop thinking about this possibility because I operate under a rule I invented that my buddy once termed, “Peter Rosch’s Law of Surprises.” The gist being: bad things only happen when you aren’t expecting them. Think about it – ever get a ticket when you were expecting to get a ticket? Anyone ever die the day you spent thinking about them passing on? If so, maybe my Law of Surprises is just that – mine and only my law.

My wife thinks I don’t like her driving – I let her drive for about three hours of that thirty-five, and I suppose that is all the evidence some would need to validate her suspicions. In reality, I don’t trust my car. I’m not sure I trust any car. We put an awful lot of faith in our vehicles as they hurl down our nation’s asphalt-bloodline. I once saw a man in Brooklyn, go gently through an intersection, hit a pothole, only to have his driver side airbag detonate on the spot and into his coffee-cup holding hand and face. He was doing about five or ten miles per hour, and fortunately didn’t have any of the aforementioned pedo-wheelers bearing down on him from in front or behind. It was an older vehicle, but so is mine. Sometimes I’ll just stare at the embossed word “airbag” on my steering column or above my glove box, utterly convinced that it is going to pop at any moment – leaving me blinded, paralyzed, at least long enough to careen into the trees of some forgotten woods near the interstate – making it all the easier for the eyes of the hills to come down and turn me and the Mrs. into torture-play-things. Other times, I question the inner workings of the steering column itself. Has one ever just snapped? Isn’t it possible? I’m not going to bother googling to find out, because even if there is no record of it, I’d say it is at least possible. And the brakes? Sure, I’ve had them inspected recently, but how do I know the guy who looked at them didn’t see they were defective, and decide to let me drive on them anyway just because he was in a rush to get home that night and see the premiere episode of Dexter – maybe even subconsciously he’d made a decision to experiment with causing deaths on his own. Lastly, only in that it will be the last thing I mention out of the hundreds of things I think could happen with any car – new or used –  from time to time, I’ll envision what might happen if the random bounce of a still-lit cigarette might ignite under my vehicle. BOOM! Done and done. But at the very least, we won’t have to move any furniture later that night in front of our La Quinta bedroom door to prevent some thrill-kill from happening. It’s a long ride from Texas to New York, it’s an even longer ride if your a passenger in my head.

Cause of Death: Scornful Gaze

Crossing the cluster-fudge that is Canal and Avenue of the Americas the other day, my partner made me privy to his following fear: that walking between cars, so haphazardly strewn well beyond the cross walk, puts him on edge because he can’t help but feel another vehicle might come crashing into the backside of the very one he’s darting in front of, sending it into him and pinning him between it and the ride some other moron has hanging eight yards out of the crosswalk. Aware of my eccentricities, he asked, “You ever have the same thought?” I laughed, assured him I most certainly do but with one minor exception: I’d be left pinned not due to some heinous combination of bumper-to-bumper events, but because the driver of the vehicle I was so stealthy weaving between would recognize my contempt for his inability to not ‘block the box.’ He or she most likely would be in the midst of a very bad day, and my scornful gaze would be the final straw – at which point the driver would decide purposefully to teach me, and the society that just won’t seem to let him ‘win,’ a tough-love lesson by stomping on the gas pedal to leave me two-halves a person. It would be ugly, maybe I’d live, maybe I’d die – but in the end all most people would talk about thereafter was whether they could relate to his overpaid council’s ‘bad day defense’ that they were putting to a jury box filled with at least ten, if not twelve, other people who shared the defendant’s belief that the world won’t give them a fair shake and are sick and tired of smug skinnies like me.

SubLet the Right One In

My wife and I, gypsies that we’ve become, moved into our third sublet Sunday. Each has been perfect in its own right, but this one is probably the nicest by modern day methods of measurement. Our ‘host’ met us there to show us the place and give us the keys. ‘Host’ is the word airbnb.com uses to describe the men and women who offer their legal and illegal abodes to transients like myself. Each sublet has been an easy transition, at least mentally – home is where the heart is after all – but, like the others, this one has me believing I might soon find myself an underground-hidden-camera-internet-sensation. Probably not, but the more times we roll the dice on the paid-for-hospitality of others, the better the odds on finally staying at one that delivers on my worst mind-made scenarios. Possible outcomes of our being there currently include: The ‘host’ and his friend are junkies, and at some point, they will simply barge in and take our stuff, fully aware of it’s minimal resale value. Said ‘host’ is actually a vampire, and has yet to decide whether he wants to drink us dead, or turn us, as such, while I am there, I try to act badass enough to warrant becoming one. The apartment itself doesn’t belong to the ‘host’ at all – he just managed to get some keys to it, post some pictures, take our money, and any day now its true resident will come home from their month long Tokyo business trip and bludgeon our sleeping bodies. My money is on junkies, and as I believe them to be strong at times, I doubt the little chain on the door will do much to stop them once they commit to the theft – but I kinda hope my sweet strut from the bedroom to the bathroom each morning has proven me a worthy candidate for turning in the eyes of the bloodsucker and his fiendish friends. Only time will tell.

“Pack Your Sh*t Up!” x 4 = Cancer Cure

I don’t revel in a short story that’s impetus stems from sorrow, however, my first week in New York City, nearly sixteen years ago, I heard a man aggressively shout to a woman, “Pack your sh*t up, and be gone when i get back!” It startled me to be sure. While I’m positive that same line is dropped like a bomb daily in towns, cities, and pueblas all over the world – I hadn’t seen such a thing growing up in The Beaver’s neighborhood. Today, I heard the exact same line delivered by a guy to his gal on 8th Ave. They were younger, but the tirade was laced with the same venom. At that point it occurred to me, I’ve heard that line at least four times on the city’s streets between the first time and today’s. I thought about telling this couple virtually the same anecdote I’m writing to you now, maybe it would have diffused the situation a bit. They’d laugh with me, as I queried, “How many times do you guys think this very thing could be heard by one man?” Then they’d thank me for the laugh, patch things up, and this gentleman, who was also extremely concerned about missing class today because of their quarrel, would make it there after all – get a good degree, and maybe someday cure cancer or reverse global warming – all because I took the time to share a little yarn. Someday, while accepting his well deserved kudos, he might not mention me, but he’d at least be standing there thinking about the guy who started it all with a quaint tale about overhearing he and his now wife’s argument. On the other hand, maybe I’d not be writing this right now, and instead be in the back of an ambulance on me merry way to intensive care. It was a tough call, but I suspect he probably would have come up just short of a solution for either, so don’t blame me when the ice cap’s are flowing through your front doors.

Economic Stormulus

Given the large amount of goods being purchased in preparation for Irene here in NYC and elsewhere – and if statuses on Facebook are to be believed, that includes lots and lots of booze – I can’t help but ponder, since I see no storm yet from my perch some nineteen stories high, if maybe all of this hurricane hubbub is just a government ploy to induce rampant spending. I’m sure come Sunday my suspicions will be proven dead wrong, but those in the know might at the very least say, “never let a good disaster go to waste.” The emboldened headline on the NY section of the Huffington Post reads, NIGHTMARE SCENARIO – and I for one think, “Maybe I should go buy a few more sodas than normal.” Well played ‘the they.’ Well played.

The Hidden Bunny Enslavement Test

I’m lacking a solid impetus for one of my first thoughts from this morning, other than the baseline of my existence which is putting paranoid rationale behind seemingly trivial things from time to time. I took a short walk for coffee this morning, and began wondering if maybe autostereograms, the very ones made popular in the nineties, (you might know them as 3D pictures, or even Magic Eyes) are in fact some sort of test devised by ‘the them’ to decide who can and who can’t come. Come where you say? I’m not sure, perhaps the next inhabitable planet currently being constructed unbeknownst to us still dwelling on this slowly dying one. Or maybe where is here, and the act of coming along just means getting to stay alive to be a part of the future. As I let myself stew a bit on this out-of-nowhere five-thirty AM autostereogram theory, it occurred to me that many of my varying doctors over the years had them hanging in their offices. Perhaps they have been tasked with screening the population for more than just herpes – maybe they have been put in charge of dividing all of us into two groups: those who can see the cow in the field, and those who can’t. There may even be a third group which is: those of us who can’t see the cow in the field, but after being told what we are looking for, claim that we now can see that cow in the field, or spaceshuttle, or bunny. At the risk of outing myself (it’s a slim risk, because I’m sure they already know which group to which I belong) I’ll tell you I’ve never seen anything in a single one of them. Since ‘they’ are probably aware of this, I guess my existence, as I know it currently, is the result of not having been able to cross my eyes enough to reveal a pouncing tiger or humpback whale behind that mess of dots and colors. I made claims to having identified the hidden image when I was younger, even when I couldn’t, and the way I figure it – this means ‘they’ have classified me as easily susceptible to suggestion even in the face of zero evidence. I’ll be a good soldier for whatever cause ‘they’ might be planning, if indeed, I am already not.

Coming Not-so-Soon: A Mortality Tale

There was a time I really fancied getting to the movie theater early, well before the actual film started. Getting a good seat was part of it, sure, but mostly I liked indulging in a good batch of trailers, coming attractions, previews, or whatever word your social circle uses to refer to the now five to seven glimpses into the future of cinema that precede the flick you’ve paid nearly double minimum wage to see.

Like many, I am growing annoyed with the increasingly rowdy theater goers, the high price of admission and snacks, and the near feature length gluttony of commercials that must be endured. Most of the experience sucks, and if I let myself think about it hard enough, I might lose nights to dwelling on why we all continue to fork over our big bucks for the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

But my real bone to pick with Hollywood has existed since viewing the first trailer for Godzilla in 1997. That trailer came out an entire year before what turned out to be an abysmal film. And over the years, the movie moguls have tortured me unmercifully by giving me these sixty to ninety second glimpses of films with release dates sometimes a full two years away.

What’s the problem with that you ask? Simple. Each and every time I witness one of these teases for a film twelve months or more away, my first thought is: “Man, I’m not even sure I’ll make it to that year.” And when a trailer for something along the lines of a remake of Dirty Dancing serves as a reminder of my own mortality – I take issue with that. Adding insult to injury, almost each and every year that I’ve kept myself alive just to see a film advertised to me over a dozen months prior, it has been a major disappointment. Super 8 was the last trailer-a-year-before-release ruse that I succumbed to. Yes, some time ago, I saw the trailer, questioned whether I’d even be alive to see the film, convinced myself that particular title was worth cleaning up my act a bit, crossing only at crosswalks and eating less meat, to ensure my survival on this planet lasted long enough for me to witness what the trailer had made me believe was on par with the second coming of Christ.

For too long, I’ve let the purveyors of live action drivel dictate how and why I am going to keep living. NO MORE! As of today, I will no longer live for the cinema! I don’t need them to remind me how short life is or point out the limitations of my own mortality with their distant future spectacles. From now on, my evil little friends – the ones I light on fire, pop in my mouth,  and inhale – shall be ample reminders of those very themes.